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Enter the Tiger

The Baic GrandTiger’s entry into Zimbabwe via an assembly deal with Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries (WMMI) is always going to be viewed with suspicion because of not-so-great records set by cousins from China — the BAW and the GWM trucks.

By Vincent Kahiya

Baic-1

The introduction of these Chinese front runners into this market was ill-fated as the trucks’ durability, or lack of, was put to the test (and failed) by civil servants who appear trained to destroy anything on wheels. Remnants of the BAW and GWM’s at CMED and army auctions have given Chinese trucks notoriety which has somewhat been cured by the entry of the Cummins-powered Foton Tunland double-cab which is being assembled in Mutare by Quest Motors.

Promoters of the GrandTiger are eager to see this truck make a good impression and not be lumped together with the poor cousins whose frames fall apart before the vehicles have gone through their first fuel tanks. WMMI executives last week were buoyant about Baic as a workhorse. They were careful to avoid comparisons with the GWM or BAW. They believe it can enter the ring with the Hardbody NP300 — a traditional workhorse in one-tonner range.

To underline their confidence, WMMI made available a test unit to Standardwheels over the Easter holidays to savour and give a verdict.
Our test unit was an entry-level single cab powered by a turbocharged DK4 2,5-litre common rail power plant. Connoisseurs of motoring will know that this is Toyota technology renowned for power and great fuel economy. The grant of the motor is unmistakable for Toyota enthusiasts. This power plant is mated to a five-speed manual transmission driving 17-inch wheels. These wheels accentuate the GrandTiger’s height, which sets it apart from trucks in its class which ride on 14, 15 and 16-inch wheels.

Safety features include ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, two airbags, and a full-size spare wheel.

The test unit responded very well on gravel and tarred surfaces (sometimes there is no real difference) although the suspension toughness appeared to have been overdone. The vehicle bounces quite a bit without a load but the suspension feels ready to take on Zimbabwe’s poor roads and deliver loads. The three-spoke steering which is adorned with radio controls is functional and appears a bit high for not-so-tall drivers.

A chrome-plated front grill and headlights stack with daytime driving lights gives the GrandTiger its own character. It’s not a poor imitation of existing brands. The rear bumper, however, requires serious attention. The plastic bumper with a step at the back almost requires a weight restriction sticker. It will fall off under the weight of a middle-sized man. When manufacturing starts, WMMI will do well to replace this with a steel bumper and perhaps give local suppliers work.

The interior for this entry-level vehicle is dominated by a sporty dashboard, integrated console, auto air conditioner and self-luminous instruments, which make the interiors comfortable for a long journey. The lifestyle pickup image is further reinforced by the neat trim of a combination of fabric and imitation leather. The colour combination of black red and brown may be extravagant for a truck. Hard plastic dominates the dash which has driver and passenger airbags.

The well-positioned interior gadgetry, however, lacks a key facet. There are no switches to adjust the mirrors, a manufacturer’s flaw or just sloppiness? There is no plausible excuse for this, especially on a vehicle which has fancy wing mirrors adorned with turning lights.

Standardwheels verdict

Considering the price tag of $25 000, this is a unit which can compete in this market as long as there is careful thought in bringing the vehicle to the market. Its success will depend on customisation to meet local conditions; the rear bumper, mirrors and ensuring every bolt and screw is tightened. It must be made available to target market — and not just government — to comment on before full throttle assembling starts. Otherwise, it’s functional as long as the motor performs like a Toyota power plant!

We have taken the pleasure to extract data from brochures of the GrandTiger and that of the Nissan Hardbody 2.5TDi 4×2 single cab for comparison purposes.

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